There are two options for the readings for this week. The first option is for when this Sunday (Nov 1st) as All Saint’s Day NOT celebrated/commemorated on the Sunday. The second option is when Sunday is All Saint’s Day. I have chosen the second option. The alternate readings are Ruth 1:1-18, Psalms 146, Hebrews 9:11-14, and Mark 12:28-34. Good passages all, and I looked at them first before I realized there was this second option.
I have been to services in several faith traditions that celebrate All Saint’s Day, and they have all been moving services. So I did not want to have the opportunity pass to speak to the passages that the RCL Year B has.
“When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:32)
That is not to say they are the easier passages to write about. I was thinking about what to say about the story of Ruth, especially when her story spreads out over several weeks. But I can easily bring you up to date, beloved reader, on how her story began. It is a story of faith and devotion. But here too we have a story of faith and devotion. Jesus had become fast and devoted friends with Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. These two inestimable women provided some teaching what it is better to do in life; serve or listen and learn. Both are important. Back to their story though.
Lazarus had passed away. Jesus knew this and yet tarried where he was. Could he have preserved Lazarus’ life if he had been there? We do not know. And in Mary’s accusation (or assertion) we hear the echo of “how could God let this happen?” How could Jesus have let his friend die?
“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” (Verses 33-36)
It is said one of the shortest verses in the bible was, “Jesus wept.” One of the most moving too. The Lord Jesus we and the world knows as the Redeemer and Conqueror of death is moved by the passing of his friend and the grief that is before him. Even though Jesus must know the outcome of this, he wept.
“But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (Verse 37)
Here is the question again; why did this need to happen if Jesus is Ruler over life and death. What is the point and reason, we ask of suffering? Why must there be those who suffer? This story does not answer that question. But perhaps it was never meant to.
“Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone.” (Verses 38 to 41a)
To see the glory of God is as much a miracle as miracles themselves. But the “glory of God” is not a random and infrequent thing. Indeed, the glory of God is ever present and ongoing. It’s just that we don’t pay much attention to it unless it is attached to some spectacular, like a miracle.
“And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” (Verses 41b to 44)
A miracle! The “glory of God” comes through again!
But I tell you again beloved reader, the glory of God is always with us. God is always with us. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are always with us. In the face of death, and all other calamities, the Divine is there. We do not know what can be prevented and undone. It is not within our knowledge to know that.
This passage is, of course, meant to under gird the remembrance of those who have passed from our faith circles. That is the rationale and reason for All Saint’s Day, to remember those who have passed from this world to the next. It comes after All Hallow’s Evening, which is the time that the specter of death is pushed away by disguises and eating certain foods. It is thought to have been, as so many Christian feast/celebration days, a pagan celebration that was “Christianized.” That is, church leaders untold centuries ago took pagan celebrations and made them into Christian celebrations, since the people of that time got together anyway and they did not want pagan traditions and rituals to overwhelm the Christian faith. (History lesson done.)
So my desire to focus on the presence of God’s glory is in keeping with intent of these two days. Though certainly not an attempt to dissuade from secular celebrations. We live in modern times; the past reaches out to us in many ways, biblical scripture passages being just one. It has always been my hope and intent to bring scripture into our modern world and make it a part of our everyday experiences.
(Now comes the blessing.) May you, beloved reader, see God’s glory in the world. And may you remember that God’s glory is with us always, as are memories of those who have passed from this world before us. Selah!